In the Poet's Spotlight for
2006: Hollis E. Pruitt
Hollis E. Pruitt was born in 1953 in the home of his
grandparents, a tenant farm shanty in the middle of the cotton fields
near Shaw, Mississippi. He was formally educated in the Arkansas public
school system, graduating in 1971 as a member of the last senior class
that graduated from Little Rock’s “Black” high school, Horace Mann.
After high school, he served in the United States Army, being Honorably
discharged in 1975. He then returned to school to complete his
Bachelor’s Degree in Radio/TV/Film, with a minor in Journalism at the
University of Arkansas. In 1991, he earned his Master’s Degree in
Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. He joined the
English faculty of Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia
in 2001. He currently serves as Coordinator of TNCC’s Creative Writing
Classes and also is pursuing a Doctoral Degree in American Studies at
The College of William and Mary. He co-directs a monthly open-mic at
The Harbor Espresso Café in Poquoson, Virginia. His poems and essays
have appeared in Virginia Adversaria; Windhover: A Journal of
Christian Literature; The Brass Check; and The Handbook of the
Elves, a book of poems and short stories from Wren Publishing.
(For Arthur Myles)
There is a rhythm
to it, the sweep of arms,
the extension of clean, gleaming
The rise and fall,
a tide, a heaving of sea....
The sounds, an orchestra of
blows, of tearings and splittings, the clatter and clank
of tossing, stacking...
and the smells....
bouquets of pine, cedar, oak and maple,
the aromas of Creation, the scents of time and history...
The sun, the sweat of it,
as old in ways as man himself,
I find myself drawn into the mystery
of it, almost thirsty for the acrid
magic of smoke.
I should loathe woodpiles, and hate
the chopping of wood.
Grand daddy died with an axe
in his hand....There, surrounded
by cotton field and slough.
A well-made and hard-working
tool, the years had all been heavy
and hard to bear,
he wore down, wore out.
It was a Mississippi
just around the bend.
I should loathe woodpiles
and hate the chopping of wood...
But, I am drawn into the ritual
of it ...
I write runes upon the air
with each swing,
and I sweat, my arms ache,
and I am no longer far removed
“The mind is a pilgrim on a long difficult
and sacred sojourn,
memory is its journey bread....”
Every soul should be haunted
by some great, enduring sin-- not the antique
shame of Adam, or the distant, murderous jealousy
The summer sun was hot and lazy bright
as new-born kitten’s eyes.
We were down by the slough,
Crawdads from their muck-tunneled
homes at the water’s edge.
The hoe was light in my hands,
easy muscled by seven year old
arms, supple as the long tresses of willow trees.
The hoe was light in my hands
as it swung dancing old, old dance
in bright arc...
Every soul should have burned, chiseled
upon it the red, raw sign of un-repented sin...
a wound bitter as Hannibal’s home salted
against the growth of forgetfulness...
Souls should bear the shadow of transgressions
more intimate than the collective guilt of Sodom,
Salem, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee...
More private than Pilate’s decree
or Peter’s denials.
We were down by the slough,
pulling crawdads from the mud,
the hoe was light in my hands as I
swung it up and over my shoulder...
I didn’t see him walk behind me as
I stood frightened and suddenly cold
as my cousin ran up the hill towards the house,
blood rushing from the side of his head...
Every soul should bear the scars
of an unguarded moment, a second
shared with Eve, a labor pain moment
marking the birthplace of knowledge
Though I explained that it had been
an accident, Grandmama whipped me anyway...
Afterwards, standing alone in the shadows
of the shanty’s high porch,
surrounded by cotton fields and confusion--
A child become a man too soon,
I felt the poison of a voice, mine,
but surely not mine, as it whispered,
“You don’t love me! I hate you! I hate you all!”
And, instantly, my mouth grew sour-dry
with the secret shame of knowing, beyond all doubt,
that I lied...she loved me more than her own life...
Every soul that looks into morning’s mirror
should taste the vinegar and hyssop
of its own tears
and remember, intimately,
when and where it fell
Here, Eden’s season is ever
I can no longer cry,
tears do not trouble these
Here, among serpent-tongued
where heatless harlots hide their shame
in the shadows of an ancient cross...
The dogwoods are eternally blighted,
the willows weary of weeping...
Sand dunes rule my eyes.
It is winter here in Eden!
Having loved and trusted you...
I know why the Oceans
taste of salt...
She was polished teak,
red-golden in the heart of summer day…
She was my neighbor, slept one, paper-thin,
duplex wall away:
We had no secrets,
shared every family argument, every whipping,
every Friday night terror--
when fathers came home, stumbled through
the door, drunk, frustrated, angry and violently
mean…we would sneak out of the back-doors
and stand in the darkness where the heavily wooded
forests whispered night-bird calls and fire-flies…
and we would cry.
She was beautiful.
She was a golden angel held earth-bound,
shackled with the poverty that was the only America we knew.
We walked to school in little flocks, blackbirds, thrushes, cardinals,
sparrows migrating across Little Rock to
Gibbs, Rightsell, Dunbar.
She was beautiful and boys would gather around to talk,
brag, get close to her. I was shy.
I carried her books when she got tired,
showed her all the shortcuts through the woods,
when older boys, our school-mates, had more than
talk on their minds…I helped her to escape!
But, caring has its price and I paid
for our friendship in school-yard brawls,
bricks thrown from behind, locker-room fights,
and late-dirty hits at football practice…
Though hurt, nothing could make me cry,
until I came home and found a moving van parked
at her family’s door.
“Lo” was her nickname…
She was music.
She was my first, best, innocent love.
She taught me friendship, the warm power of
She shared my tears, never left an emptiness
Loved me with a gentleness only childhood could sustain.
She was a golden-cherub trapped in the spider-web
of Dixie’s bowels, the poverty that was our blackness
sentenced us to the dungeon of the only
America we knew.
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